Sudden cardiac arrest – when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood to the lungs, brain, and body – is frightening enough, but consider this:
Even people who appear healthy and fit, including professional athletes, can have undiagnosed heart conditions that make them vulnerable to sudden cardiac arrest. The death last week of Daniel Jarque, a 26-year-old soccer star who played for Espanyol, makes this point. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it underlines the point that was already made by the deaths of four other players on the world soccer scene in the past seven years. All four athletes collapsed on the field and died of what is called Sudden Death Syndrome.
Antonion Puerta, who played for Spanish club Sevilla, and Phil O’Donnell, captain of the Scots team Motherwell, died in 2007. Popular midfielderMarc-Vivien Foe, who played for Cameroon, died in in 2003. This videoshows the scene on the field when Hungarian striker Miklos Fehrercollapsed and died on-field in 2004. Note how he was walking and smiling and 20 seconds later he was on the floor, unconscious.
Jarque, who was in Florence, Italy, to play in a match against Bologna, was stricken in his hotel room. According to the Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport, he was on the phone when sudden cardiac arrest occurred. When Jarque fell silent, the caller alerted club officials. Jarque was transported to a hospital, but could not be revived.
CNN.com’s report on Sudden Death Syndrome notes that currently the governing body of European football, UEFA, recommends cardiac screening for members of national soccer teams, but that it is up to individual nations to follow that recommendation. Italy requires all players to be screened for Sudden Death Syndrome, and in England, screenings are compulsory for youth soccer traininig programs.
In the U.S., the discussion of cardiac screening for high school and college athletic programs is heating up. Some schools are beginning to require that young athletes undergo EKG tests and even full echocardiogram ultrasound tests. A growing number of communities are enacting AED laws requiring automated external defibrillators at sports fields and school sporting events.